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Legislature Special Session: Loan Program Funds Transfered, State Incentives Survive

Policy & Advocacy
On November 13th, the Montana Legislature opened a Special Session called by Gov. Bullock in order to address Montana’s budget crisis. MREA staff was present in Helena, working to protect renewable energy policies during the fast moving session. During the 4-day session, which adjourned on November 16th, MREA tracked two bills that had implications for renewable energy development: House Bill 7 and House Bill 6. During a Special Session, bills can move quickly – often times so quickly that their full implications may not be completely understood. This was a huge concern with House Bill 7 (Rep. Alan Redfield). HB7 would have frozen numerous income tax credits that benefit Montanans across the state, including alternative energy credits. The alternative energy credits are used by thousands of Montanans to help support…
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Solar Tariffs threaten Montana’s Solar Industry

Industry & Technical, Policy & Advocacy
In May, two foreign-owned U.S. solar manufacturers (Suniva and SolarWorld) filed a “Section 201” request with the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) to place tariffs on imported solar cells and modules. The petition claimed that imported solar cells and modules were harming the domestic manufacturing industry. The USITC took up the petition and began looking into whether or not these imported cells and modules were indeed doing harm. On September 22nd, the USITC ruled that an increased volume of solar imports did injure domestic solar manufacturing. This is significant because a confirmation of injury to the market requires the USITC to then make remedy recommendations to the President who will decide what, if any, remedies to enact. The original tariffs requested by the domestic manufacturers could double the cost of…
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Battery Based Inverter Training by Outback Power Systems

Safety & Training
On Friday, September 15th MREA offered an industry designed training for installers working with solar + storage systems. Presented by Lones Tuss with OutBack Power, the course was a one-day industry designed workshop focused on Outback Power Systems battery based inverter technology, along with balance of system components, web based monitoring, and their new grid-tied three-phase inverter product. Topics included: -- Battery Based FXR and Radian Inverters -- Integrated Combiner Solutions—ICS Plus (Rapid Shutdown) -- Optics RE—Web Based Monitoring and Control -- ProHarvest—3-Phase Grid-Tied Inverter Attendees who completed this course were eligible for 6 NABCEP credits. We are grateful to have been able to partner with OutBack Power and have Lones present to members of Montana's renewable energy industry. The event was a great success, and was a perfect way…
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Net metering study moving forward; ETIC establishes focus areas

Policy & Advocacy
Net Metering Cost-Benefit Analysis Update As a reminder: House Bill 219, passed by the 2017 Legislature and signed by Governor Bullock, directs the Montana Public Service Commission to oversee a cost-benefit analysis conducted by NorthWestern Energy of customer-generators (i.e. utility customers who use grid-tied, net-metered systems). HB219 gives the PSC the ability to set minimum information requirements for the cost-benefit study. For more, read our June 28 Policy Blog post below. In June, the PSC released draft minimum information requirements for the study, and put them out for public comment. MREA joined a number of other renewable energy advocates in responding to the comments (view the comments here). Overall, the suggested list of benefits and costs was comprehensive, and we provided detailed feedback on each category for the PSC’s consideration.…
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With community support, Lewis and Clark Library goes solar

With community support, Lewis and Clark Library goes solar

Community Scale, Rooftop Solar
Walking down S. Park Avenue in Helena, you might find yourself gazing onto the roof of the Lewis and Clark Library. Where before there may not have been much of a view, today there are rows upon rows of solar panels. Unlike most rooftop installations, the location of the Lewis and Clark Library affords passers-by a view of the 50kW solar array, completed this past March by Bozeman Green Build. A unique opportunity presented itself when the Library began planning to replace the roof. “We were already planning on replacing the roof,” says John Finn, Library Director. “We were approached by Sleeping Giant Citizens Council (SGCC) who suggested we look into making the new roof ready for solar while we were at it.” From there, a number of groups came…
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Net Metering Cost-Benefit Analysis Process Underway

Policy & Advocacy
House Bill 219, passed by the 2017 Legislature and signed by Governor Bullock, directs the Montana Public Service Commission to oversee a cost-benefit analysis conducted by NorthWestern Energy of customer-generators (i.e. utility customers who use grid-tied, net-metered systems). This analysis could have significant impacts for net metering customers and renewable energy installers in Montana. House Bill 219 requires NorthWestern Energy (NWE) conduct a study on the costs and benefits of customer-generators (i.e. net metered customers) before April 1, 2018. NWE is required to submit this study to the Public Service Commission (PSC) who will then review the study and make findings, including as to whether or not to create a separate rate-payer class for customer-generators. As part of HB219, the PSC has the authority to set minimum information requirements for…
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Darby Community Public Library to generate 88% of needs from solar PV

Darby Community Public Library to generate 88% of needs from solar PV

Community Scale, Rooftop Solar
The building that now houses the Darby Community Public Library opened its doors in September of 2004.  The 5,000 square-foot structure is a national demonstration building, showcasing a new type of construction featuring small diameter roundwood for beams and trusses. Described as the “Sistine Chapel of Small Diameter Roundwood,” the Darby Library is an inspiring example of what partners can do when they put their minds together.  It was a true community effort, both in concept and practice. It was constructed using local contractors and suppliers incorporating as many locally made supplies as possible.  The furnishings were manufactured by local craftsmen and made from area timber products. Energy efficiency played a large role in the design and construction of the Darby library. It boasts a ground-source heat pump system, along…
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Legislative Wrap

Policy & Advocacy
updated May 9, 2017 The 65th Legislature has adjourned, and we at MREA are left with a feeling of both relief and frustration. Over the past 4-months, MREA staff worked with board members, colleagues, and our individual and business members to oppose attacks on net metering, the alternative energy loan program, and more. At the same time, we worked to advance legislation that would have created jobs and supported energy independence. We owe a large thank you to everyone who dedicated their time to come to Helena to testify this session, submitted comments online, and made phone calls to Legislators. Thank you for making your voice heard! While we are grateful that many of those bad bills never reached the Governor’s desk, we are discouraged that good bills, like the…
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First LEED Platinum building in Montana now using 100% solar

First LEED Platinum building in Montana now using 100% solar

Rooftop Solar
The “Home on the Range” building was renovated in 2003 to become Montana’s first LEED Platinum certified building, and is home to organizations that are committed to energy conservation (Northern Plains Resource Council, Western Organization of Resource Councils, and Western Native Voice). During the renovation, Sundance Solar Systems installed a 10kW solar electric system that has been able to offset 1/3 of the building’s energy use over the last ten years. Northern Plains Resource Council decided take the next step to offset 100% of the building’s energy use by pursuing additional solar project for the property. “The 10th anniversary of the commissioning of the building was coming up, and we wanted to do something big to celebrate,” says Kate French, Board Chair of Northern Plains Resource Council. “This building was…
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34.2kW solar array is largest on a Catholic Grade School in Montana

34.2kW solar array is largest on a Catholic Grade School in Montana

Community Scale, Rooftop Solar
Rev. Daniel J. Wathen and Kathryn Tilleman at the St. Jude Thaddeus Catholic School in Havre had been eyeing a solar array for the past four years. “We had it on our mind, but the finances weren’t working out for us,” says Rev. Wathen. They had tried working with a number of different groups, but found many don’t fund projects like these or didn’t have funding available. It wasn’t until Rev. Wathen was at a steam boiler maintenance training that he overheard a conversation about solar installations. That’s when he received a recommendation for NorthWestern Energy’s Universal Systems Benefits (USB) grants program. “NorthWestern was excellent to work with. They walked us through the whole process,” says Tilleman who is the school’s Development Director and worked on the grants for the project.…
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